May 19, 1944 The Seven Dwarves of Auschwitz

One day of fresh horrors ended to reveal the next, and still they lived.  It was unusual for even two or three siblings to survive the Auschwitz death camp.  I don’t believe there was another instance where an entire family lived to tell the tale.

Shimson Eizik Ovitz was a Romanian rabbi, and a WWI-era “merrymaker’ or traveling entertainer.  He was also a man afflicted with pseudoachondroplasia.  Shimson Eizik Ovitz was a dwarf.  Ovitz fathered 10 children by two normal sized wives:  Brana Fruchter and Batia Bertha Husz.  All ten survived to adulthood.  Three grew to normal height.  The other seven were “little people”, the largest dwarf family unit, in history.

On her death bed in 1930, Batia gave the kids a piece of advice that stuck with them, all their lives: “through thick and thin” she said, “never separate. Stick together, guard each other and live for one another”.

war2_1687882aCircus-like performing dwarves were common enough at this time but the Ovitz siblings were different.  These were talented musicians playing quarter-sized instruments, performing a variety show throughout the 1930s and early ’40s as the “Lilliput Troupe”.  The family performed throughout Romania, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, with their normal height siblings serving as “roadies”.   And then came the day.  The whole lot of them were swept up by the Nazis and deported to the concentration camp and extermination center, at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The train arrived around midnight on May 19, 1944.  Thoroughly accustomed to a degree of celebrity, one of them began to give out autographed cards. The family would soon be disabused of any notions of celebrity.

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The “death gate” of Auschwitz-Birkenau

Even so, cultural currents run deep.  Not even concentration camp guards could resist the irony of seven dwarves.   Knowing of his perverse fascination with the malformed and what he called “blood” (family) experiments, Dr. Josef Mengele was immediately awakened.  The “Angel of Death”was delighted, exclaiming “I now have work for 20 years!”

The ten siblings were spared from the gas chamber that night, along with two more family members, a baby boy and a 58-year old woman. Families of their handyman and a neighbor were also spared, as all insisted they were close relatives.    All told, there were 22 of them.

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Ovitz family performers, before the war

The family was housed in horrific conditions, yet seven dwarves didn’t come along every day.  Where others were directed to the gas chambers, these were kept alive for further use.  As bad as it was, the food and clothing was better than that received by most camp inmates. Mengele even allowed them to keep their hair, and arranged special living quarters.

The bizarre and hideous “experiments” Mengele performed in the name of “science” were little more than freakish torture rituals.  Three dwarf skeletons were on prominent display, the bones of earlier arriving little people, ever-present reminders of what could be.  Boiling water was poured into their ears, followed by freezing.  Eyelashes and teeth were pulled without anesthesia.  Blood was the holy grail in the mind of Josef Mengele, and the stuff was drawn until each would throw up and pass out, only to be revived to have more blood drawn.the-ovitzs-leaving-the-ca-008On one occasion, the Angel of Death told the family they were “going to a beautiful place”. Terrified, the siblings were given makeup, and told to dress themselves. Brought to a nearby theater and placed onstage, the family must have thought they’d be asked to perform.  Instead, Mengele ordered them to undress, leaving all seven naked before a room full of SS men.  Mengele then gave a speech and invited the audience onstage, to poke and prod at the humiliated family.

One day of fresh horrors ended to reveal the next, and still they lived.  It was unusual for even two or three siblings to survive the Auschwitz death camp.  I don’t believe there was another instance where an entire family lived to tell the tale.

Auschwitz_I_(22_May_2010)
Before becoming an industrialized extermination center, Auschwitz I was a slave labor camp for Polish and later Russian prisoners. The words over the gate, “Arbeit Macht Frei”, translate: “Work Makes You Free”.

Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviet Red Army on January 27, 1945.

Traveling by foot to their Transylvanian home village of Rozavlea, the family found the place ruined.  The gold coins buried for safekeeping before the war were right where they had left them.  Otherwise, there was no future in this place.

ba132f2b89040eef0fb0b59e29512baf Only 50 of the 650 Jewish inhabitants of the village ever returned.  In 1949, the family emigrated to Israel and resumed their musical tour, performing until the group retired in 1955.

Josef Mengele never did face justice. The man who had directed victims by the hundreds of thousands to the gas chamber, fled to South America after the war.  He was living under a false name in Brazil in 1979 when he suffered a stroke, while enjoying an afternoon swim.  The cause of death for one of the great monsters of modern history, was accidental drowning.

The youngest and last of the Ovitz dwarves, Piroska or “Perla” to her friends, passed away two days before the terrorist attack on the World Trade Towers. She spoke for the whole family, I think, when she said “I was saved by the grace of the devil”.

The hour-long film “Standing Tall at Auschwitz” fills in a lot of the details.  It’s worth watching.

May 19, 1944 The Seven Dwarves of Auschwitz

The youngest sister “Perla” spoke for the whole family, when she said: “I was saved by the grace of the devil”.

Shimson Eizik Ovitz was a Romanian rabbi, a WWI era entertainer, and someone afflicted with pseudoachondroplasia. He was a dwarf. Ovitz fathered 10 children by two normal sized wives, Brana Fruchter and Batia Bertha Husz. Three of them grew to normal height, the other seven were dwarves.

Batia gave the kids a piece of advice that stayed with them all their lives: “through thick and thin” she said, “never separate. Stick together, guard each other, and live for one another”.Liliput Troupe

The seven dwarves were talented musicians, performing throughout the 30s and early 40s as the “Lilliput Troupe”. They toured Romania, Hungary and Czechoslovakia with their normal height siblings serving as road crew, until being swept up by the Nazis and deported to Auschwitz.

The train arrived at around midnight on May 19th, 1944. Not even concentration camp guards could resist the irony of seven dwarves. They immediately woke Dr. Josef Mengele, the “Angel of Death”, knowing of his perverse fascination with what he called “blood” (family) experiments. Mengele was delighted, “I now have work for 20 years”.Auschwitz

The ten siblings were spared from the gas chamber that night, along with two more family members, a 15 month old boy and a 58 year old woman. Families of their handyman and a neighbor insisted that they were also close relatives, and were also spared. A total of 22 people. Though they were subjected to bizarre and freakish “experiments” and housed in horrific conditions, these were kept healthy for further use, and received better food and clothing than most camp inmates. Mengele even arranged to have special living quarters built for them.

The Ovitzs leaving the camp in May 1944The bizarre and hideous acts of cruelty that Mengele performed in the name of “science” are beyond the scope of this essay, but seven dwarves didn’t come along every day.  The Angel of Death treated the Ovitz siblings differently than other camp inmates.

It was unusual for even two or three siblings to survive the Auschwitz death camp. The Ovitz family endured eight months at Auschwitz.  This was the only instance in which an entire family survived the death camp, intact.

Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviet Red Army on January 27, 1945.

Perla Ovitz
Perla Ovitz

The Ovitz family was transported from the camp by cart, a year later arriving at their Transylvanian home village of Rozavlea.  The family found the place ruined, though they did find a stash of gold where they had left it, buried for safekeeping before the war.

There was no future for them in this place.  Only 50 of the 650 Jewish inhabitants of the village ever returned. The family emigrated to Israel in May 1949, resuming their musical tour and performing until the group retired in 1955.Seven Dwarves, Smithsonian Channel

Josef Mengele never faced justice. He fled to South America, where he accidentally drowned in 1979.

The youngest and last of the Ovitz dwarves, Piroska, “Perla” to her friends, passed away two days before the terrorist attack on the World Trade Towers. She spoke for the whole family, when she said:  “I was saved by the grace of the devil”.

The Smithsonian Channel produced a ¾-hour documentary on the Ovitz siblings.  They call it “The Seven Dwarves of Auschwitz”.

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